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The Difference Between Pickslanting and Edge Picking: An Explainer

By January 8, 2015 August 8th, 2018 Lessons
pickslanting vs edge picking

Here’s a question we get all the time: what’s the difference between pickslanting and edge picking?

This seems to be a source of frequent confusion. The two are very different, and do completely different things, but since both involve pick angles and rotation, this can be hard to intuit without a direct visual comparison. The above image is from an animation coming up soon in Episode 3, “Eric the Right”, and is designed to make the difference as clear as possible.

Defining the Terms

Edge picking is a method of attacking the string with the edge of the pick rather than the flat face. When you do this, the sloping shoulder of the pick lets it slide over the string instead of getting stuck. The pick’s wedge shape is the reason this works. The key point to understand about edge picking is that almost every player uses it, even those who don’t think or know consciously that they do. It’s simply very difficult to play guitar at all with zero degrees of edge picking!

LEARN FEARLESSLY: Downward pickslanting licks like this one must switch strings after upstrokes when using alternate picking. Sweeping adds flexibility to the toolbox, but only on downstrokes. This is the Eric Johnson and Yngwie system at work.

Pickslanting, on the other hand, is a string switching mechanic. Downward pickslanting, which we’ve covered at length in the first two episode of Season 2, enables the pick to escape the plane of the strings every time you play an upstroke. This eliminates the awkward jumping from string to string — which we call “stringhopping” — which you would otherwise have to do to get to a new string. This type of jumping, or stringhopping, is inefficient, and that’s why elite players don’t use it when they’re playing their fastest.

If downward pickslanting allows upstrokes to break free of the strings, then upward pickslanting is exactly the reverse. If you’ve watched our Antigravity seminar, then you’ve already seen upward pickslanting at work in the amazing techniques of Michael Angelo Batio, Vinnie Moore, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paul Gilbert. Of course, we’ll also see upward pickslanting in later episodes of Cracking the Code Season 2.

Finally, for the ultimate in head-spinning confusion, some players use both upward and downward pickslanting in the same phrase. This allows the pick to break free of the strings on both upstrokes and downstrokes. The sophistication of doing this, and the difficulty of discovering these movements by feel without explicitly practicing them, is the reason why playing a simple three-note-per-string scale can sometimes seem like such a herculean feat. We call such elite practitioners “two-way pickslanters” — and in fact all of the players mentioned above fall into this category.

The XYZ’s of Picking

The key here is that pickslanting and edge picking are separate processes which occur on completely separate axes of movement. We can extrapolate a coordinate system from the body of the guitar, taking a line parallel to the strings as our X-axis, a perpendicular line intersecting all strings as our Y-axis, and a line protruding perpendicular to the body of the guitar as our Z-axis. In this system, we can describe pickslanting as rotation around the X-axis, and edge picking as rotation around the Z-axis.

Most often, pickslanting in the X axis is achieved by rotating the wrist. In fact, many players discover that they have a natural — forgive the pun — inclination toward either upward or downward pickslanting based on hand positions that were burned in, subconsciously, early in their playing career. Judging from the number of elite players who use downward pickslanting, it is probably the more common of the two strategies.

To make matters confusing, edge picking is achieved through a combination of both finger and wrist mechanics. Because the two are related, it is common for players to make subconscious adjustments to their edge picking angle as a result of changes in their pickslant.

For example, in the Antigravity seminar, we notice that a visible bend, or “bump” in the thumb is often an indicator of upward pickslanting. The trick is that the thumb bump isn’t how upward pickslanting itself is achieved. Instead, it’s a way for the fingers to adjust the edge picking angle to compensate for the pickslanting angle. Nevertheless, because upward pickslanting and the thumb bump very frequently happen together, we can use the thumb bump like a type of forensic evidence to understand picking mechanics that we can’t always see directly. The amazing Vinnie Moore is a great example of this. As soon as he clicks into high-speed mode, the thumb bump immediately appears, his pick locks into upward pickslanting. It’s visually very distinctive, and a classic example of upward pickslanting in action.

It’s Not About Speed

Here’s probably the most important point of all: neither of these things has to do with speed, any more than the tires on your car have to do with the power of your engine. Picking speed is a completely separate issue altogether, and involves moving the pick back and forth using a variety of different physical methods. Edge picking simply reduces the resistance of that movement. And pickslanting allows that movement to transition from string to string with perfect accuracy. The key is that all three of these can happen simultaneously — in fact, there’s no way around it!

If you’re starting to get the idea that picking technique isn’t one problem but really a collection of them, then you’re exactly right. Stay tuned for more episodes of Cracking the Code as we continue our investigation of this fascinating topic.